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Commentary | 5 changes baseball can make without fundamentally altering the game

It seems commissioner Rob Manfred is dead set on changing baseball. Here are some things MLB could do without altering the spirit of the game itself
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2019, file photo, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media at the owners meeting in Arlington, Texas. The chance that there will be no Major League Baseball season increased substantially Monday, June 15, 2020, when the commissioner's office told the players' association it will not proceed with a schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic unless the union waives its right to claim management violated a March agreement between the feuding sides. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

ST. LOUIS — I would have made just about any concession to get baseball in 2020.

You want 7-inning doubleheaders? Sign me up. You want the universal DH? Alright, fine. You even want to start a runner on second base in extra innings? I hate it, but fine, whatever.

But the 2020 season is just about wrapped up, and it's time to look towards the future. If Rob Manfred continues to have his way that future could make the game look a bit different.

And I just don't get it.

I know baseball likes to cry poor a lot of the time, and this year because of the pandemic I'll put up with it a little bit, but come on. The league and owners aren't hurting in the big picture of things.

The game certainly isn't hurting enough to make foundational changes like continuing the extra inning runner at second rule, possibly banning defensive shifts, expanding the playoffs and devaluing the regular season and even installing a nonsensical three-batter minimum for pitchers.

I may come off a little bit like an old man yelling at the clouds and I know some things are deserving of update and change, but it's pretty clear these aren't the answers.

However, if the owners want them, there's a decent chance Manfred is going to push for them.

So how about we focus on things that might make the game more enjoyable for fans and grow an audience instead of things that suits think could put more money in the hands of owners?

Here are a couple of things I think baseball could do to spruce up its standing in the sports world, without taking an axe to an on-field equation that's already darn good.

5: Become the definitive fan-friendly in-person experience sport

You would probably like to go to more baseball games in person, once that kind of thing is allowed again, right?

But for a lot of families, that can be tough financially. It shouldn't cost a family of four $200 or more to go to a ball game and have hot dog.

Obviously teams like the Cardinals don't have a problem packing the stands, but that's not necessarily the standard everywhere.

Why can't it cost less to get into a game in the bleachers? Why can't it cost less than $9 for a beer at a ball game? People want to spend money on these things. Let them.

I'm also in favor of some sort of program where after the fifth or sixth inning or so, you could get into a game for a reduced price at the gate. Why not?

4: Game times

I know it's all about getting those prime time adult eyes on the broadcast to sell them things, but come on.

How much better does it feel when a game starts at 6:30 p.m. or earlier, you can watch it casually and then when it's over it's not almost midnight?

The players may not like earlier start times for certain reasons, but I'd love to see more games begin before that standard "7:15" first pitch time.

I think you could get more kids interested in watching/going to games, as well as perhaps make average Joe couch sitter more likely to sit through an entire game.

Heck, I'd like a handful of scheduled single admission doubleheaders throughout the regular season. But I digress.

3: Pace of play

I'm not going to argue with MLB when they say this is a problem. It is.

The time of games just continues to steadily rise. It shouldn't take four hours to watch the average baseball game.

I would combat this from two different fronts.

First, I'd put it on the players. When you step in the batter's box or on the mound, you are ready to go. Everyone should be a fast worker. You get the ball, you get the sign and then you throw the ball.

Less time between pitches means more action. I don't think anyone really pays attention to the pitch clock, so this is going to be on the players and umpires. They know things need to speed up, so make it happen.

Second, and this would hurt those after the money, I would shorten commercial breaks. For pretty much every game, you're guaranteed two commercial breaks per inning. One in the middle, and one at the end. And that doesn't account for pitching changes.

In hockey, you can go almost a half of a period sometimes without a commercial if the puck stays in play.

The more often you're on the actual action, the more likely people are to stick around. You can't take and take without giving somewhere.

2: Expansion and realignment

For 2020, I didn't mind playoff expansion. Bring it on, this year is weird. But it sounds like baseball wants to keep at least a somewhat expanded postseason. How about instead of that and devaluing the regular season, we add some more money to the overall pot and more intrigue to that regular season.

There's not a shortage of teams or talent to warrant expansion in baseball. Cities like Montreal, Portland, Nashville and Charlotte could support teams, and would be welcome additions.

Let's get some more teams and regions of the country loving baseball.

And while you're at it, dish up some realignment. Something simple.

1: Market your stars

This is something people have been chirping about for years.

Baseball's stars just don't measure up to stars the NBA or NFL can offer.

A lot of that is based on the inherent fact that baseball is more of a team game. A Mike Trout who plays every game doesn't control the outcome as much as a LeBron James running the Lakers' attack or a Patrick Mahomes at quarterback for the Chiefs. That's just a fact.

That certainly doesn't mean guys like Mike Trout couldn't be more well known, because Mike Trout does to crazy things every night.

"Baseball social media" doesn't have near the drama or storylines that "NBA social media" or "NFL social media" does. So there's a lot of younger people who don't even give it the time of day.

I'm no marketing major. I don't know have a perfect plan of how to get more exposure for the game and its exciting stars. But they have to start getting their best players, and their stories to the next generation.

Baseball can't count on people 40 and older to carry the entire sport. It has to get in there with basketball and football for a piece of the attention within the younger crowd.

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